Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For This I Live

All seven varieties of basil in my garden have leafed out beautifully in response to the regular heat of the new summer, but knowing what is to come - the dreaded and inevitable black mildew - I am wasting no time.
Today before sunrise (the oil in the leaves is strongest at this time) I took in a large bowl of it. I also clipped some parsely, sage, oregano, savory, arugula and thyme because, well, there it was, all green and leafy and ready to be mixed in with the basil to produce a unique pesto. Last week I dug up some young garlic. Fresh garlic has a mellow flavor (like a seminarian's neck.) It is difficult to peel because its skin isn't crispy, but if I can't give time to such a celestial ritual, what should I be doing? Our supermarket here in this less than chic suburb hasn't started the seasonal stocking of pine nuts, so I am using walnuts and no one would be the wiser If I hadn't said so. Cheaper, too. The olive oil is virgin but nothing too fancy. (It's not the violin, it's the bassoon.)
I added two dried Carolina Reaper hot peppers from last season to the black peppercorns when I ground them up, being sure to use rubber gloves rather than risk ruining yet another pair of contact lenses. Never able to decide whether I prefer parmigiano or pecorino romano cheese, I throw in some of both. I can't tell you the relative measurements. I just keep adding things until I get the color, consistency and taste I like. The result is very thick and smooth, not like commercial pesto which is really just oil with some bits swirled in. I can always add more oil when it is decanted. I spoon the pesto into jars provided by my husband who buys a particularly precious and pricey yogurt called "White Moustache" (available at Cafe/Bar Boulud across from Lincoln Center) that comes in perfect jars for freezing pesto.
I filled seven of these, six of which went into the freezer, destined to make the trip south with me to Fort Lauderdale in November where I will taste my summer garden throughout the winter and inflict friends with them rather than arrive at their doors with the usual bottle of wine. I drizzle some olive oil on top of the pesto before putting on the lid. I don't know why I do this. Instinct, or maybe something I once saw my grandmother do. I think it seals and protects it.
I'll be making several more batches, each one different, until the mildew shuts down the factory. For this I live. And now I am stationed in the full sun, like bright laundry on a clothesline, snappy and chattering with the neighbors, chiding the chipmunks and ready.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Month Of DisMay

A cold May had my fingers numb as I pried bricks from a section of path that had become a roller coaster. Some burrowing critter may have tunneled during the winter below the path, causing the brick to sag. I removed them in order, stacking them according to a system that would make their reassembly fast and accurate. When Nick came running into the garden, I took a moment to stand and return the demanded fist bump. Six months had passed since we had spoken. For an eighth-grader that stretch can be a time of tumult with each day burning something new into the circuitry of a young man. For me, it had been a sojourn oddly saturnine in places despite the Fort Lauderdale sun. When he asked me what I had done all winter, I could not think of anything. Is that what it means to be relaxed, or had I been afloat in my head more than in the ocean? I was glad to be back. Glad to be in the garden. Glad to have these repairs to make. Glad to have lugged heavy bags of gravel to fill the sunken trenches that had made the paths swoop beneath the bricks. Glad to know that I am not superfluous in this place. Glad for the shock of the oddly cold month of May, a month to be remembered as DisMay.

Nick walked on the walls of the raised beds as if on a tight rope and talked about the six months of winter that I had missed and that he had spent at his new school.

I said, “So now you like Breakdown Academy? Remember how you hated the idea of having to go there?” He rolled his eyes at the old joke and opening his jacket, he pointed to the words embroidered into his shirt.

“It’s BreakTHROUGH. And I like it a lot. But today I got a pink slip.”

“You did? Well I’m certain an opportunity to wear it will someday present itself to you.” This went swiftly over his head, probably for the better.

“I accidentally punched someone when we were playing.”

“And what does the issuance of the pink slip get you?”

“Like detention. You have to sit in a room and do nothing.”

“So it’s like Florida!” I added brightly. “That’s not so bad.”

I poured the gravel into the ruts and used a rake to level it before adding a new layer of weed blocking fabric. Nick changed the subject.

“My homeroom teacher brought his fiancĂ© who’s a guy to school.”

I didn’t look up from my work. So is this where we are going now, I thought. Will this be the year when the gay thing will enter the conversation? I had always known that sooner or later Nick would grow into the realization that his neighbors are a gay couple. I think my going to Florida for half of every year may have thrown him off track for a time because the ordinary understanding of coupling precludes extended absences, but ready or not, I would have to say the right things in response to any questions from him. I hadn’t thought it through. I pretended this news was nothing.

“Really? For show-and-tell?”

Again the eye-roll. “We don’t have show-and-tell in eighth-grade. It was something where parents and teachers met and teachers brought their husbands and wives.”

A plane flying overhead made distracting noise and it reminded Nick about something. He said, “Oh! I asked my teacher about the Lindbergh baby.”

Last summer, we had a protracted discussion about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby when I claimed it was buried beneath a rose bush I was pruning.

“He told me that you weren’t making it up. Lindbergh was a famous pilot.”

“Of course I wasn’t making it up. They called him ‘Lucky Lindy.’ You ought to consider becoming a pilot. You’ll get to go places and there’s good money to be made.”

“No, I’m going to do engineering.”

“What on earth does that mean?”

Nick was ready for another subject-change. I can only guess as to how ideas come to the forefront of the head of an eighth-grader.

“So the three people I admire most in the world are Jackie Chan, Homer Simpson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

“You can’t be serious. What about Bette Midler?”


“Nevermind. You know Lindbergh was interested in engineering when he was your age. First cars, then motorcycles and then airplanes. I think aviation is what you should focus on.”

“I’m going to figure out time travel.”

I was now replacing the bricks and my back was beginning to ache.
“Good. You can go back in time and help get the Lindbergh baby back to his parents. You’ll be a hero and get a huge reward.”

“How much?”

“I don’t remember the amount, but now that I think of it, if you brought those dollars back with you into the present, you’d be short-changed. Better to get the reward in diamonds.”

"What if I got the cash but put it into a bank before I came back to the present?”

“Not a good idea. Banks were failing in those days, and besides, even if you picked one that survived the Depression, they wouldn’t hold your account open for that many years, and how would you be able to convince a bank teller that you had opened the account 90 years ago? No, get diamonds.”

What followed was a surprisingly astute speculation on the part of Nick as to what holds its value better in the long run, cash or diamonds. Maybe he ought to consider a career in finance.

“I’ve got it, Nick. Here’s what you do. You take the reward in cash and deposit it in a bank that will survive. Something like J.P. Morgan or Wells Fargo. Mrs. Lindbergh’s father was a partner in J.P. Morgan so she can help you with this. When you set up the savings account, you have the teller take your fingerprints. You tell the bank that no one can access the account unless their fingerprints match, and that the account must be kept in perpetuity, accruing interest at the agreed upon rate. That way, when you get back to the present, you simply walk into the bank, wave your hands, slap your palms down onto the blotter, leave your prints and get your cash!”

Nick did not respond. He seemed to have tired of the subject and had become lost in thought. Then he said, “I missed you when you were gone.”

“So did I, Nick.”

“You missed yourself?” This he delivered with a mischievous grin as he ran out of the garden and jumped on his bike.

Yes, I thought. I had missed myself. I hadn’t realized this until Nick’s joke. I had lost track of myself while in Florida where that is so easy to do, and where it is actually encouraged. I had filled the space of me with sensations and with other people. I had stopped generating my own heat, with no one, myself included, seeing the difference. Then I got into the car and returned, glad for the work needed in this garden, glad to find that in his growing up, Nick hasn't outgrown his visits to my garden, and glad even for the searing cold of DisMay.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Pope Who Loves Women

There is a refreshingly heterosexual aura on Pope Francis. He seems to be a man with a healthy and mature appreciation for real women. This sets him apart from most of the hierarchy comprised of men who are stunted in their visions of women, comfortable with an imaginary Mary-Queen-Of-The-Universe-Star-Of-The Sea-Mediatrix-Of-Salvation, but flummoxed by flesh-and-blood women with whom they shrink from shoulder-rubbing in the halls of church authority. (I will return to why I think Francis is a mature heterosexual at the conclusion of this.)

Pope Francis has given sudden evidence of his appreciation for real women in a spontaneous response to a nun who, during the May 12, 2016 meeting with the 50th anniversary conference of leaders of religious orders of women (the International Union of Superiors General) dared to ask him if the Catholic Church might be well served by women deacons. His answer – akin to his “Who am I to judge?” comment that temporarily thrilled gay Catholics – might be a slightly opened door to the ordination of women, albeit at a pace that will probably prohibit the ordination of any of the nuns present for his response in the Sala Nervi audience hall that day.

Pope Francis is willing to call for a study of the idea that women might be ordained deacons. This is significant, even though it is the same kind of side-stepping that he used when he convened a pow-wow over the issues of marriage and family. Pope Francis harbors personal opinions about these matters, but feels that it is his responsibility to act collegially and to discern the will of God as voiced by his bishops. In the case of granting Communion to divorced/remarried Catholics or granting marriage to LGBT Catholics, Pope Francis let his bishops temper what I suspect was his personal inclination to act more compassionately in those areas.

What does a Roman Catholic deacon do, and what would be the impact of women deacons. In short, a lot!

(continued after the break)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

F2M Trans Mark Angelo Detransitions Back To Maritza

The trans community can be hostile, volatile and downright dismissive when one of their own embraces an opinion that might be used to support the arguments of their oppressors. That is why widely-followed Mark Angelo Cummings, the Cuban born F2M (female-to-male) transsexual set off a firestorm when he suggested that helping youngsters transition might be misguided, and that his own transitioning might have been a big mistake.
Mark Angelo and Lynna Cummings

His recent detransitioning back to “Maritza” outraged some of his fans, and his controversial stance caused sponsors to dump him. His new wife M2F trans Lynna admits that she is attracted to Mark more than Maritza. If you are rolling your eyes, please wait a moment. This couple is wiser than any headline might lead you to think.

Six years have passed since I wrote about Cummings for South Florida Gay News ( when he was living in Hollywood, Florida, with his then-wife Violet, and beginning a career as a singer/songwriter. After several years traveling and living in New Mexico, and with a few unsuccessful relationships with men and women behind him, Cummings has returned to Fort Lauderdale with his new wife.  When I ask him if he has continued to write songs and to perform, he seems surprised by the question, and it is clear that he has spent six years generating an all-encompassing online presence in word, image and video about what it means to be trans. That did not leave much time for music.

To be clear, his detransitioning back to female is on hold for the moment as the couple takes this time to settle into Victoria Park and a new phase of their life. You can still follow Cummings’ brutally honest self-presentation on Facebook, on his blog and on his Youtube channel where fans’ tempers sometimes flare.

Cummings did not disguise his very practical reasons for stopping his detransitioning. The money, the icy reception by his parents, the apartment hunt and his wife’s love put a stake through the heart of the freshly reborn Maritza.

Online, he clearly describes his practical decision with these words, “All of the events that took place from pounding the pavements finding an apartment that would be affordable, in a good neighborhood and free from scammers, led to my knowing that detransitioning was not an option for me after all. I felt vulnerable as Maritza and had to use, yes I know, my male privilege to get the job done. It is a jungle out there and unfortunately my alpha nature [as Mark] is needed to be taken seriously and to protect my wife and I during certain situations[…]Nonetheless I don’t regret the 3 months of my attempts to detransition, but in those three months, I quickly learned how much I hated fussing over myself, the make up, the worrying about what I was going to wear, the looking in the mirror and not liking what I saw. In the end, it would take way too much money to detransition and to make things look presentable after 13 years of testosterone and all of the secondary characteristics that it created.  I am who I am, and after all at 51 years of age, I can’t put myself through all of that. I became Mark 13 years ago, and Mark I shall remain.”

Building on those words, I asked Mark who he actually is. He replied, “I am two-spirited. Sometimes the female part of my nature comes to the foreground and sometimes my male side dominates. I think we are all like that to some degree.”

In listening to Mark and Lynna, I find that what separates them from most people is their fearless ability to give expression to what is in their hearts without worrying about the approval of others, and free from the assumption that today’s decision must be monumental or permanent. Gender-presentation seems to be a small part of their deep devotion to each other, and the gifts they give each other are more lavish than their sex organs.

Lynna tells me that soon after their arrival in Fort Lauderdale, Mark brought her to the Wilton Manors bar Alibi. Walking through that door, Mark rejoiced at being in a crowd of gay men and proclaimed them to be his people. Did that moment upset Lynna? Not in the slightest. She shrugs and smiles when she tells me about this. She knows and cherishes her husband to the core. She accepts the entire package that is Mark Angelo and Maritza Cummings without much concern about the wrapping. Glad to have all three of them nearby, I hope Mark will pick up his guitar and write some new songs.

For more, check out

 (In print and online this week in South Florida Gay News -

Friday, April 08, 2016

Pope Tevye And The Fiddler On The Roof Of St. Peter’s

My Analysis Of Pope Francis’ Exhortation Amoris Laetitia

Throughout two years of anticipation for Amoris Laetitia, few hoped it would open the door to same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church, while many hoped it would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to openly receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Because of the way Francis weighs his options and considers various points of view before making any decision, he reminds me very much of the dairy farmer Tevye in the musical Fiddler On The Roof. He is a man who loves tradition but he loves his family even more. In the course of the musical, Tevya gives in to his daughters’ wishes until he is finally pushed to the wall over an issue he cannot condone. This Exhortation he calls Amoris Laetitia – The Joy Of Love - constitutes such a wall for Pope Francis regarding divorced and remarried Catholics seeking to receive Communion, and LGBT Catholics seeking sacramental marriage.  In order to become hopeful or to read-it-and-weep, let's have a look at what he says.

[Read on]

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Hillary Clinton On The Reagans' Response To AIDS

Want to learn about the Reagan/AIDS backstory in your weighing the inaccurate remarks and apology made by Hillary regarding Nancy and Ronald Reagan's response to the epidemic? Do these four easy things.
First, watch this video if you haven't already seen it on Savagelove:
Then read this brief bio of the journalist who questioned the ultimately discredited Larry Speakes 
Even though Kinsolving helped bring AIDS into the public and presidential eyes, he was basically and religiously anti-gay. That is why you don't see him being trotted down mainstreets as grand marshall at Pride marches. He is a mixed bag, hero and foe. 
Then, consider Hillary's record. Some say she came late to her advocacy for the LGBT community. That is true of everyone in the world. No one is born swaddled in the rainbow flag. Some get there before others, but she has done good for us in recent years. I don't care about her motives.
Finally, consider how it felt to come out of the closet at the onset of AIDS as did my husband in 1982/83 when verified deaths from AIDS were in only the hundreds but young gay men desperately needed guidance and information rather than the derisive laughter of a presidential press secretary.

People are complicated. Some want to lead others. Some just want to have fun. Others wake up, look at the ocean and wonder how long it would take to swim to the horizon. Would I have the strength? Would I be attacked by a sea creature from the depths? What will be there when I get there?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Where Were We?

So, where were we?

Where were we before weird candidates for President became our primary source of entertainment? I know there had at one time been a coliseum filled with crazed Romans who liked this kind of thing, but that place is in ruins, and those people lost their empire. I thought we had moved on.

Where were we before God became a weapon in the hands of tormented idiots? I know we used to fear the dark and worship the sun, but I thought we had moved on.

Where were we before sex became complicated and regulated and bound inextricably to some dreamlike notion of family values? I know it used to be more animalistic than poetic, but I thought we had struck a balance that respected the playful and fluid essence of sex.

Where were we before our workdays smothered us so thoroughly that those moments when we laugh deliriously and deeply become memorable and identifiable and able to be counted on the fingers of one hand? I know that even tending a rose garden is work, but when did we stop singing while we work? That was a tragic day in the life of anyone alive. And, if you never sang while you worked, that is even worse.

Where were we before we convinced ourselves to pay more money for stuff than we have in our pockets? When did we begin to think that all that stuff was necessary? When did we accept debt into our lives, which is really just a form of slavery?

Where were we before we stopped using our beautiful bodies as they were designed, and started going to a gym to do the things we should be doing all day long? I know we used to eat good food in its natural state, and not too much of it, but we became too smart about food production for our own good. We wanted sweeter everything, and we gave it to ourselves. When did we throw out the instruction sheet to our bodies?

Where were we before we wholeheartedly and completely gave our thinking and feeling to machines for simulation? I know we used to use electric toasters because that was easier than holding bread over a fire pit, but when did we vacate our feelings and thoughts by making them simplistic and universal and accessible in an off-the-shelf way? When did we stop being quirky and unique? When did we decide that it is good to be part of something big?

So, tell me again. Where were we?

Marco Rubio Is No Kennedy Catholic

For the last fifty years, Roman Catholic politicians have been talking “ChristianLite” when invoking God. That changed in the last Republican presidential debate before the Iowa caucus, when Marco Rubio boldly worshipped his “Jesus Christ, who came down to earth and died for our sins.”

Most of us have not heard that kind of theology since the days when, as children, we had to memorize the answers to all those perplexing questions in the Baltimore Catechism. Little Marco obviously learned them well, and his pious proclamation on the floor of the debate should put tears of joy in the eyes of every American cardinal and bishop who have in him a candidate they can control.

We have had all sorts of Christian presidents, including one – Taft – who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. We have had a few who were disinterested in religion – Andrew Johnson, Hayes, Lincoln – and we have had exactly one Roman Catholic president - John F. Kennedy - who adored Marilyn more than Mary. In Rubio, we would get the real Catholic deal, and this should be frightening to any God-fearing American man or woman who is disinclined to bind the country under the yoke of the papacy.

The most startling aspect of Rubio’s debate proclamation is his clear belief in the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. Rubio believes that the son of God existed somewhere in the universe (in heaven maybe?) before he “came down” to earth to fix the mess we have made. In Rubio’s belief, Jesus wasn’t just a twinkle in the eye of God but rather a real guy waiting in the wings, or on the bench, for his chance to be born and die. Like God the father, Jesus had been around for all eternity, killing time with his dad somewhere outside the boundaries of time itself, until he got the irresistible urge for his brief Middle Eastern saga.

When I was a child in Catholic grade school and menaced by the Sisters of Mercy, I did not cotton to this bit of theology. It seemed to me to be downright stupid for God to pre-arrange something like the passion, death and resurrection of his only son. The script of any episode of I Love Lucy made more sense to me, concurrently schooled as I was by early television, than did the idea that the life of Jesus Christ was, in literally excruciating detail, inevitable. I kept this heretical opinion to myself, and recited the words of the Creed just like all the other kids, figuring that they had not yet realized the nonsense of at all.

There is a second aspect of Rubio’s debate proclamation, the notion that Jesus had to come down here to take on our sins.  As a child, I had serious problems with this. Why couldn’t God just snap his fingers to clean up our sins the way ladies on the television make their kitchen appliances sparkle with a quick swipe of something new?  Why couldn’t he just clear the table in his workshop? Like every other kid in my hometown, I had an Etch A Sketch with which I could make any design I imagined and then simply flip the toy upside down to erase it and start over again. Surely God in his infinite brilliance could do even better than that.

Also, I never felt that I had been born bad, or that without redemption by Jesus I would go to hell. In second grade, I pestered Sister Josephine about the idea of baptism. “You mean we were born with sins already inside us?” When she nodded yes, I could see in her eyes that she knew I would be trouble. (She eventually left the convent, married and had her own kids. I wonder if she had them baptized.) The seven-year old heretic, I kept my reservations private while I made my first Confession and received my First Holy Communion, carefully keeping the host from touching my teeth because Jesus, who had been floating eternally in space and had then taken on human flesh, was now a piece of bread that I had to eat in order to get to heaven where all of this stuff would finally be explained.  

How would we do with a president who energetically spouts his belief in the literal particulars of Roman Catholicism? Not well. He would have to dismantle same-sex marriage. He would have to say that it is okay to feel gay urges, but sinful to have gay sex of any kind. He would have to make sure that children are adopted only by couples consisting of one man and one woman. He would have to get LGBT teachers out of classrooms. He would have to insist that Americans keep every sex act open to the possibility of procreation. He would have to reverse Roe v. Wade and instruct all Americans that abortion is murder. Worst of all, he would appoint Supreme Court Justices guided by “Jesus Christ, who came down to earth and died for our sins.” So many awful words to be added to the Pledge of Allegiance.